LIVE: Senate hearing on COVID-19 vaccination program — Day 3

Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - January 22, 2021 - 9:52am

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate Committee of the Whole will resume its probe on the government's inoculation program against COVID-19 Friday amid heightened tension between senators and Cabinet officials over the procurement of a Chinese-made vaccine.

Last Friday's hearing centered mostly on the government's acquisition of 25 million doses of vaccines manufactured by Sinovac Biotech, which senators fear is less effective yet more expensive than its counterparts.

No decisive data has been released by Sinovac on the efficacy of its jab — which was cleared for local clinical trials by the FDA on Tuesday.

Its price has also been the subject of heated contention between senators and Cabinet members, with the ballpark amount remaining unclear for weeks until Malacañang and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. finally disclosed that the cost would not be much different from the P650 offered to Indonesia and would not be more than P700.

In an effort to clear the air before the proceedings, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he, Senate President Tito Sotto, and Sen. Ronald dela Rosa on Wednesday met with contact tracing czar Benjamin Magalong and Galvez who issued the invitation.

"Sec. Galvez's briefing clarified a lot of issues and concerns raised by the senators that have remained unresolved until last night," Lacson said Thursday. "We advised him to explain in tomorrow's hearing the same way that he did last night, without violating the terms of the agreement with the vaccine suppliers."

Both Roque and Galvez have said that they were bound by confidentiality disclosure agreements and unable to reveal the exact price of any of the vaccines being purchased by the Philippines.

"We were shown the documents. And we have no doubt about Sec. Galvez's integrity and his sincerity to accomplish his task," Lacson also said, less than a week after calling out Galvez for contradicting himself and casting a "shadow of doubt" on the government's inoculation effort in his refusal to disclose vaccine prices.

Galvez and Health Secretary Duque III have also been instructed by President Rodrigo Duterte to walk out on Friday's hearings if they are faced with verbal abuse, Roque revealed.

He added that the president felt that senators were being "bellicose" and "warlike," and had presumptions of corruption during the previous two hearings — an allegation which members of the Senate have since denied.

Sens. Lacson, Sotto and Risa Hontiveros, and Sotto have also denied that they have a preference for US-based Pfizer's vaccines in response to an accusation issued by Duterte during a televised address earlier this week.

Hontiveros, who said the Senate cannot simply let go of the P74 billion in taxpayer money budgeted for vaccines in a statement insisted that a representative from Sinovac be present at Friday's hearings to field senator's questions.

Watch the Senate inquiry LIVE, at 10 a.m. on FRIDAY, Jan. 22, 2020.

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